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[Page 137]

Teachers and Educators at Tarbut

by Zeev Grabov

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The directors of the “Tarbut” School
From right to left: Noach Kotzker, Mrs. Katz, M. Gamarnik (all perished), and the secretary A. Held (Israel)

 

Amalia Droog of blessed memory,
one of the founders of Hashomer Hatzair

 

The foundations of the Tarbut School in Ratno were laid at the end of 1926. However, it is worthwhile to note that even before that, some attempts were made to found a more modern school alongside the old-fashioned cheders that had not progressed with the spirit of the times. These attempts, however, were not crowned with success. Some said that a certain event that shook up the Jewish residents of the town was the factor that moved them to establish Tarbut. They were referring to the time when the teachers of the Polish public school took also the Jewish students to the Polish cemetery to have them participate in the planting of trees around it. Whether or not this was the case, the conditions for the establishment of the school had already existed for some time. What was missing was the primary moving force and the living spirit, but this problem was solved with the arrival of the teacher Kotzker to Ratno.

There is no doubt that the locals, especially the committee that was established for this purpose (Reb Asher Leker, Yeshaya Bekerman, Yehuda Konishter, Yosef Zesak, Leibel Grabov, Yitzchak Hirsch Held, Berl and Eliezer Held, Yaakov Liberman, Moshe Eilbaum, and Gittel Karsh) played a major role in the establishment of this important educational institution. However, we must not ignore the assistance from outside that was given by the Zionist activist Moshe Perl of Kovel, who greatly assisted with the obtaining of the government permit; the supervisor of the Tarbut schools of Wolhyn, Shmuel Rozenhak; and the Tarbut headquarters in Warsaw.

Pairs of volunteers who went from home to home carried out the task of registering the students, and more than 100 students were registered in the first phase. This

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was an impressive accomplishment, and the school year opened with that number of students and a teaching staff that included, aside from the principal Kotzker, also the teachers Bokser and Klonitzky who had come from outside of Ratno, and the Ratno teacher Nechemia Hochstein (“The sweet toothed”). They taught the following subjects: Kotzker – Hebrew; Bokser – arithmetic and geography; Klonitzky – the early grades and kindergarten. At the beginning of its existence, the school was located in the home of Hodel Kamiler, but the local activists concerned themselves with a more fitting location, which was in the residence of Azriel and Chaya Shlitan on the Synagogue Street. The new premises were also not ideal for a school, but the rooms in the new premises were more spacious, filled with light and air. They engaged the Polish language teacher Lirenfeld to replace the teacher Klonitzky who had left. The daughter of Trebichinsky of Ratno taught Polish in the lower grades. When the great fire broke out in 1929, the Tarbut School went up in flames – and it went back to its first premises in the home of Hodel on Holinka Street. When they finished the building of the home of Bracha Shlomo-Michel's in the center of the city, the school moved to that home. It was given three large rooms, a secretary, a waiting room, and a large playground. There was a change in teaching staff, which now included the principal Noach Kotzker, the teacher Gavriel Zagorsky, and the teacher Klara Ryba. This took place in the 1929-1930 school year. The number of students reached 200. Zagorsky introduced new teaching methodologies, and his Bible classes enthralled the students, for he knew how to bring the chapters of the Bible to life in a dramatic fashion. Even the teacher Ryba who taught us Polish succeeded in endearing Polish poetry and literature to us, which to this point had been like a closed book to us.

 

Students of the “Tarbut” School with the teachers Kotzker, Klonitzky and Bokser

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We must attribute the two plays “Jephtah's Daughter” and “The Snatchers” to the teacher Zagorsky. These were performed by the students of the school, and brought a great deal of satisfaction for the Tarbut activists, the students, and indeed the entire Jewish population. Everyone was sorry that this teacher had to leave Ratno in the following school year (1930). He went to complete his studies in the Rabbinical Seminary of Frankfurt am Main in Germany. He then studied medicine in Switzerland, made aliya to Israel, and worked as a gynecologist. Several teachers who came from outside to take his place did not acclimatize to Ratno and left after a very short period of teaching. At the end of the 1930-1931 school year, the teacher Klara Ryba also left her work in the school. Fifty years later, her former students met her in Israel. She was very happy at this meeting, just as she was happy to participate in various events organized by the organization of Ratno natives in Israel.

At the beginning of the 1931-1932 school year, the Tarbut headquarters sent us two excellent teachers. One of them, Elchanan Levin, taught Hebrew and mathematics. The second, Boris Rozen, a teacher for all subjects taught in Polish, had previously completed his studies at the Stefan Batory University in Vilna. From that time, the Polish ministry of education stopped persecuting the Tarbut School, which it had done previously because the level of its students in Polish had been below the minimum requirements according to its estimation. It also waived its demand that the principal of the Polish school also be the principal of Tarbut. The two aforementioned teachers succeeded in advancing their students in the subjects that they taught. At times, contests took place between the students of the upper grades of Tarbut and those of the Polish school with respect to their knowledge of Polish literature. The students of Tarbut always had the upper hand. Without a doubt, this was due to the teacher Rozen, who excelled in his didactic teaching style, and succeeded in raising the level of interest of the students in the subject material. “Pan

 

The 5691/2 (1931/2) school year

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Tadeusz” of Mickiewicz, “With Fire and Sword” of Sienkiewicz, the poems of Slowacki and others became a source of interest for the students thanks to his methodologies. The teacher Rozen also developed the physical education curriculum, and gymnastic exercises became an honorable part of every school celebration. He was a Beitar follower by his outlook and political leanings, and also tried to influence the students to leave Hashomer Hatzair and Hechalutz Hatzair and transfer to the ranks of Beitar. However, he did not have any success in that realm. The students remained faithful to those movements, which had hegemonic status in Jewish Ratno.

These two teachers left Ratno at the end of the 1933-1934 school year. New faces again appeared in the school: Shlomo Karlin, a graduate of the Tarbut teachers' seminary of Vilna; and Amalia Droog, who was a native of Ratno. At first, she did not want to serve as a teacher in her native town, but after much urging and after she married the teacher Gamarnik of Kovel, she accepted the job of teaching in the school. The teacher Karlin organized a mandolin band in the school, and settled in the town after he married Golda Droog, a Ratno native.

During the final years, the school struggled for its existence. The paltry support and tuition fees were insufficient to ensure that the salary of the teachers be paid on time. The teachers who regarded teaching not only as a job, but rather as a mission, did not have it in them to arrange strikes, like today, and became accustomed to their bitter fate. During the later years, two Ratno natives joined the teaching staff -- Binyamin Pogatz and Yenta Teitelbaum – after they graduated from the Tarbut teachers' seminary of Vilna. Noach Kotzker continued to serve as principal. I am not mentioning his praise specifically, for I know that many already have praised him, and whoever adds, detracts.

By Zeev Grabov

 

The committee and the teachers of the “Tarbut” School in Ratno, July 3, 1932
First row, sitting from right to left: Y. Hochman, B. Held, Y. Zesak, Y. Bekerman, Y Steingarten, N. Klein
Second row, standing from right to left: A. Held, L. Grabov, the teachers Levin, Kotzker, Rozen, unidentified, Y. Karsh, M. Droog, Sh. Perlmutter, and A. Y. Held


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Noach Kotzker – Teacher and Educator

by Noah Cohen

Translated by Jerrold Landau

One of the interesting characters for close to thirty years, plowing in the furrows of Jewish education in Ratno, was without doubt the teacher Kotzker, who was honored and beloved by the Jewish youth. If the Jewish youth of Ratno, of whatever party affiliation, earned a good name throughout the Jewish Diaspora in any realm of activity, this was thanks to a large degree to the education of Kotzker and the values that he instilled.

Kotzker was a native of Pinsk, and was a graduate of the famous courses for teachers in Grodno. He was a friend of the renowned pedagogue M. A. Beigel and of Tzemach, one of the founders of Habima. When the First World War broke out and the Germans conquered the city areas, Kotzker wandered to the village of Zabulote and served as a teacher of the children of the few Jews who lived in that village, which also had a small railway station. Of course, this work did not satisfy Kotzker's spirit, for it restricted his horizons and he saw no satisfaction from it. He began to take interest in the nearby region, and thereby arrived in Ratno, which was 20 kilometers away from the village of Zabulote. One of the residents of Zabulote, Chaim, assisted him in this by informing Yudel Konishter, a teacher and educator in Ratno, about Kotzker, and his talents and abilities. Konishter conferred with Eliahu Janowicz, who served as the mayor at that point, who in turn conferred with the German commander, who agreed to bring Kotzker to Ratno and open a school that would dedicate an appropriate amount of time to the German Language. He also agreed to provide a certain amount of support from the German authorities.

One clear morning during the summer of 1916, a wagon stopped at the home of my father Reb Avraham the Shochet on Holinka Street. Reb Chaim Zabuloter and Noach Kotzker got off the wagon. A day or two after he had arrived in Ratno, after he had become acquainted with the difficult economic situation in the city, Noach Kotzker offered himself to me and my sister Rachel of blessed memory as a free teacher. After some time, he succeeded in setting up a Jewish school with the support given to him by Janowicz.

The Jewish educational situation in Ratno at that time was particularly poor. The Jewish-Hebrew-Russian school under the leadership of Avraham Telzon and Yudel Konishter was no longer in existence at that time. Only a few cheders remained in town. There were a few teachers, including Itzel the melamed who was known as a good Gemara teacher, who had left teaching and turned to business. The difficult economic conditions directed the thoughts of the parents away from problems of education. Many of them were satisfied if their children would know a portion of Chumash, provided that they would be able to assist their parents with their livelihood. The appearance of Kotzker under such conditions was literally a salvation, and an obstacle to the increasing ignorance.

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Among his first steps was arranging mixed classes with boys and girls. This step was revolutionary with respect to the concepts of those days, and there were people who opposed it. However, with the passage of time, this ensured that among the girls of Ratno, there would be some who were conversant in Bible and even Mishna no less than the boys.

Since most of the houses in the town were set on fire by the Russians as they were retreating from the town, and there was no building appropriate for housing the school, the Shtibel of the Hassidim of Trisk served as a temporary premise for the new school. The Jews of Ratno quickly realized the benefits of this new educational institution and the new principal. This was the beginning of a new path in Jewish education, the likes of which was not known in the town to that point. The classes of the teacher Kotzker were very different than those of the teachers who “ground through” the chapter of Chumash and Bible with their students in a rote fashion, repeating word for word after the teacher. It was impossible for the students to not sense the new winds that were blowing. The educational attainments were recognized immediately, and the students connected to their teacher with bonds of love and appreciation. Kotzker also arranged various performances and celebrations for the students, which provided a good opportunity for the parents to appreciate the achievements of their children, as they watched them successfully filling their roles on the stage under the guidance and direction of the new teacher.

The teacher Kotzker was the first in town to tie education with day to day life. Thanks to him, the anniversary of the death of Dr. Herzl, 20th of Tammuz, was recognized publicly for the first time with an assembly. Other events connected to Zionism and the Land of Israel were similarly recognized. Noach Kotzker became the moving force behind public and Zionist activities in our town. He began to give presentations on Bible and other topics. Things reached the point where

A class of the “Tarbut” School with the teachers Rozen, Lewin, Kotzker, and the secretary A. Held

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the first public assembly hall was established in Kamiler's house, leading to the establishment of various Zionist youth movements at a later stage. Kotzker possessed a great deal of knowledge, and was also a talented orator. It is no surprise that many Jews flocked to all of his lectures. In those days during the time of the German occupation, when the Jews found themselves in dire straits, and the sole cultural institution that had existed, the public library, also went up in flames, Kotzker's lectures were the only spiritual treasure in the town. They encouraged the youth in the struggle for a better future, and instilled faith in such a future. When the private houses became too small to accommodate everyone who would come to the lectures, Kotzker advised that a multi-room location be rented which would serve as the center of all cultural activities in the town. Indeed, opposite the house of Privrov at the edge of Holinka Street, there was a house that was suitable for this purpose. This house, which belonged to Hershel Kamiler, a wealthy resident of Ratno, served as a prison before the war. With the help of several friends, Kotzker turned this place into a community center, similar to those that existed in larger cities in the region during that era. The day of the dedication of the community center was a holiday in the town. Young and old streamed to Holinka Street, although there were some zealots who regarded this innovation with an unpleasant eye. Kotzker was of course the host of the celebration, for he spent his days and nights ensuring that everything would be arranged appropriately, and that the townsfolk would support this new spiritual center.

In praise of Kotzker, we should note that he never attempted to take the stage for himself. On the contrary, he attempted to educate and prepare his students for public performances, especially the older ones, and to include them in every communal event that he initiated and planned.

It is no exaggeration to say that a new era of social life in Jewish Ratno commenced with the opening of the community center, especially for the Jewish youth. During the years 1918-1919, dozens of performances and cultural events took place in the community center, which turned into a veritable cultural center.

The many activities that took place in the community center were thorns in the eyes of the gentile neighbors. It was possible to sense their evil glances, as they were unable to come to terms with a radiant community center. They were unable to cause any damage, however, since a guard of young Jews was set up to prevent any difficulty. Nothing bad occurred as long as the Ukrainians were in power. This was not the case after the Polish conquest, and the tidings of Job of the slaughter perpetrated by the Poles in Pinsk on the 5th of Nissan 5680 (1920) arrived, where they attacked the Jewish community center under the pretext of “arresting spies” and took 35 of the finest Jewish activists to be killed. The heart prophesied bad tidings, and one day the news spread in town that Kotzker had been imprisoned. Later arriving information indicated that the Poles demanded that he, as the chairman of the Jewish meeting place, turn over the illegal weapons in the possession of the meeting place to them. When he refused to comply with their request, they ordered that he be given 25 lashes on his naked body – a form of punishment that was in vogue with the Poles at that time. This event left its mark upon the Jewish community.

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Around that time, Kotzker got married to Ginzburg, and thereby became a Ratno resident. Under his leadership, the school flourished and developed, and the number of students progressively grew. At that time, the school was housed in a story built for it above the Beis Midrash. The name of Kotzker as a prominent educator and good organizer spread to the largest cities in Wolhyn. The educational activists in Kovel even succeeded in bringing Kotzker to them for a period of time, but his connections with Ratno and its Jewish youth were apparently sufficiently strong, and he returned to the town. In 1926, the school joined the Tarbut network of Hebrew schools of Poland.

The golden age of that educational institution began at that time, for it gained renown in the near and distant regions as an institution with an excellent teaching staff and a choice principal. The students of Tarbut in Ratno left their impressions in their roles as members of youth movement delegates to the regional conventions and summer camps of the various organizations. This too was apparently a result of the education at Kotzker' school. It is fitting to note another fact: most of the graduates gravitated to the left camp of the workers' movement. It seems that Kotzker, being a Socialist himself, succeeded in instilling in his students the values of the workers' movement, social justice, and love of one's fellowman.

Around the time of the Second World War, when the economic situation in the town became more serious and the school suffered from a significant deficit, Kotzker began to think about leaving Ratno and emigrating. In a letter to Yehuda Konishter and his wife in Argentina dated March 5, 1935, he writes among other things: “Ratno is declining significantly from day to day, and all of its residents are jealous of those fortunate people who have left or can still leave – as I do in my dreams!” That is to say, he too was dreaming about this. He was unable to obtain a certificate for aliya to the Land of Israel due to his advanced age, so he prepared to travel to Argentina. However, it was difficult to obtain a permit. He remained in Ratno, and went on his final journey to Mount Prochod along with hundreds of his students

 

The summer Moshava of the Tarbut School in Ratno, Vydranitsa, July 25, 1932

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The Kamiler House -- the headquarters of the activities of the youth movements

 

Young Zionists in the town
Top row right to left: A. Marsik (perished), M. Gutman (Israel), D. Fuchs (Argentina), G Weinstock (perished), M. Stern (Israel), Y. Shapira (killed in the Soviet army), B. Eilbaum, Sh. Cohen (Argentina), A. Avrech (died)
Second row: M. Kamper (died in Canada) M. Gefen (Israel), Ch. Ginzburg (perished), M. Droog, Sh. Ginzburg (United States), P. Vernik (Israel), M. Grabov (Argentina), M. Rider (killed in an accident in Ratno)
Bottom (kneeling): Y. Karsh, R. Kaminer (perished), D. Marin (Israel)

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Letter from the directors of “Tarbut” to Y. Konishter in Argentina, September 26, 1937


[Page 141]

The Battle over the Library

by Yisrael Honik

Translated by Jerrold Landau

I wish to dredge up from the abyss of forgetfulness an event from the time when we belonged to the youth movements, which today would perhaps seem ridiculous or meaningless, but in those days was treated by us with excessive seriousness.

In those days, it was customary that if one or a group of activists of a certain youth movement had a dispute with the other members of the movement, they would not only leave the movement, but would also immediately join a different movement or perhaps establish a new movement in order to anger the opposing side, and also so that they would have a place to discharge their youthful energy. In general, Ratno had no shortage of movements and organizations for the local youth. There were also ephemeral organizations that arose and disappeared quickly. However, the Hashomer Hatzair movement maintained its stand at all times and under all conditions. In this manner, it was perhaps different from other youth organizations. However, one day after a dispute that was not of an ideological-conceptual character, a serious group of Hashomer Hatzair members decided to separate from the movement. At that time, I was part of that group. Since we were unable to remain

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without an organization, Heaven forbid, we decided to reestablish Hechalutz Hatzair that had existed in the past and had disbanded. I recall that the headquarters of the original Hechalutz Hatzair had been on Holianka Street in the home of Leizer Dibczner, near the bridge. Its leaders at that time were L. Avrech (who died in an accident in Israel), L. Ginzburg (currently in the United States) and Shlomo Cohen. These members had developed intensive activity in the chapter. During the time of their activity, Mottle Weinstock, Moshe Stern and others had made aliya to the Land of Israel. When the chapter disbanded for various reasons, its library of several hundred important Hebrew books remained orphaned. Therefore, the members of Hashomer Hatzair jumped upon the find and took possession of the books. I was the librarian, and I am able to assert that Hashomer Hatzair supervised the library well, but after I left the chapter with a group of members, they fired me from my task of librarian. This pained us, and since we began to reestablish Hechalutz Hatzair, we searched for means and ways to “conquer” the leadership of the library, for we felt ourselves fitting for this, given that the library had been established by Hechalutz Hatzair and I had served as the librarian for a long period. We raised the issue in a semi-conspirational meeting and hatched a plan to conquer the library from Hashomer Hatzair. We saw no reason to conduct negotiations on this matter, given that we were aware of the stubborn attitude of Hashomer Hatzair with respect to the library. Three members were given the responsibility for taking the necessary steps to return the prestige and the books to us: Maya Weinstock, Avraham Grabov of blessed memories, and the writer of these lines. The plan was straightforward: to enter the room by force in which the bookcases stand, to remove several hundred books, to hide them in a secret place, and then to send a notice of such to the Tarbut committee and the school principal Noach Kotzker, who was held in wide esteem, about our actions so that they would negotiate with us and arrange for our participation in the leadership of the library. The day that was set for this effort was the eve of Yom Kippur. It seemed to us that this

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time frame was appropriate from a strategic perspective, for the hall would be closed and everyone would be busy in their houses with kapores[1] and other preparations for the holy day.

On the set evening, we went to Chamilar house, where the meeting place was located, with sacks and crowbars to open the door of the hall and the doors of the bookcases. The people in the house did not suspect anything when they heard the banging, for they were sure that the members of Hashomer Hatzair had come as they did every evening for activities in the chapter. We conducted our work calmly, removed the most important books (including the new books that had been obtained) as well as the library catalog, packed them very well into the sacks that we had brought, and snuck away secretly through the darkened Holianka Street until we reached the house of Eliezer the stableman, who was a Stoliner Hassid. We went through the gentile alleyways until we reached our warehouse. We had to cross several fences, calm the dogs that attacked us, and overcome other obstacles. Next to our warehouse there was a small house filled with cloth and rags. We hid our cultural treasure there. We had reason to suspect that my brother Berl of blessed memory, who was faithful to Hashomer Hatzair, would certainly search that house. Therefore, we hid the books very well so that nobody could find them. Maya brought the catalog and other important papers to the home of Gittel Karsh of blessed memory and hid them in the oven. The next day, we convened an urgent meeting of our members. We informed them that we carried out our mission, and we sent a letter to Kotzker, as was agreed. The news of the theft of the books spread through the entire shtetl, and things were in ferment. The shtetl was like a seething pot. Members of Hashomer Hatzair went around and searched for the books. My brother Berl ran to the warehouse and surrounded it, but did not succeed in finding the hidden items. The teacher Kotzker convened a special meeting after he received our notice, and made efforts to arrange matters. After deliberations that lasted for several hours it was decided: a) to set two positions in the library leadership for representatives of Hechalutz Hatzair; b) that those who perpetrated the theft will not serve as members of the leadership. We gave our agreement to this decision

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and signed the agreement along with representatives from all sides. Our group designated Shmuel Goldman (today in Israel) and Batya Chayat of blessed memory as our delegates to the leadership of the library.

Translator's Footnote

  1. A symbolic ceremony of expiation of sins carried out on the eve of Yom Kippur with a chicken or rooster. See http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/407513/jewish/Kapparot-The-Chicken-Thing.htm Return


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Thou Shalt not Make Graven Images

(About the character of Reb Shlomo-Aharon Olitzky)

by Leib Olitzky

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Reb Shlomo-Aharon was a descendent of Reb Aharon of Karlin. This fact alone was sufficient to place him among the finest of the Hassidim of Karlin even beyond Ratno. However, aside from this, he also had fine personal traits, for he was an educated Jew, very pious, spending day and night with Torah and Divine service. All of the Jews of the town, not only the Hassidim of Karlin, treated him with honor and respect as if was the rabbi of the city, a veritable rabbi. Many asked him to take upon himself the rabbinate of the city, for why was he looking afar when the town itself was such a fitting place for the crown of the rabbinate. However, Reb Shlomo-Aharon was a modest and discrete man, and he told those who urged him:

“Who am I and what am I that I should put my head toward the crown of the rabbinate and become pastor of a holy community such as Ratno? I am wary of the level of responsibility that such a role would impose.”

He was not involved at all in the burden of livelihood, despite the fact that the family was blessed with six children and it was no easy matter to feed such a family. He relied upon his wife to take care of the household affairs and members of the household.

His wife was a simple woman; a village native with a healthy and straightforward intellect. She was strong, and a veritable woman of valor, as is said, “A helpmate for him.”[1] With her straightforward intellect, she realized immediately that the prayers and Torah study of her husband would not feed their children. Therefore, she hitched herself fully to the burden of livelihood, and talked well of both herself and Shlomo-Aharon, saying, “He occupies himself with sublime matters and everyone honors him, with crumbs coming to me too, and after 120 years, he will rise to a fine portion of the Garden of Eden on account of his prayers and studies - and this too is for the good…” She, Fruma, had a store in which one could find everything from “a thread to a shoelace,”[2] including colorful textiles from the farmers who would come to Ratno, dyes, meat on a spit, eggs, pig hair, various leather products, dried mushrooms, dried fruit and the like, and all types of haberdashery. Merchants from Brisk or Kowel who would come to Ratno would come to Fruma's store and not leave empty handed. She was more than busy throughout the six workdays in running the store and the household. She bore the burden as best she could. Only on the Sabbath did she rest a bit from this great burden, breathe a bit, and prepare herself for the great burden that awaited her during the coming week. It is unclear if Reb Shlomo-Aharon himself understood how she managed with the double task

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of housewife and shopkeeper. She never even attempted to involve her husband in her mundane affairs and her shop. However, on rare occasions, in order to fulfill her obligation toward the community and the family, she would ask for his advice in some matter or another.

Reb Shlomo-Aharon did not withhold his advice from her, which was one and the same in all cases: “Fruma, do according to what you feel is right, and the good G-d will send his good angel before you…” This was the division of labor between them. She involved herself with the affairs of this world and materialism, and he concerned himself with spirituality and matters of the World To Come.

Years passed. The children grew up and the worries increased. Fruma's health declined. She ignored her problems, saying, “Who has time for such things?” However, when her illness worsened, she was forced to leave her work in the store and take to her sick bed. Nevertheless, she never stopped worrying about the store that she abandoned and the well-being of the children. She worried particularly about her Shlomo-Aharon, while he himself awaited the mercies of G-d and would utter incessantly: “Master of the Universe, do not place such a serious test before me, for who am I and what am I without her…”

 

Reb Shlomo-Aharon Olitzky

She was granted a reprieve for some time, whether due to his prayers or her own strength, and she returned to direct the household and the shop. However, it was not long before Fruma's health took a turn for the worse. They summoned

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the oldest son Nachman from Trisk, and Reb Shlomo-Aharon sat with his three sons while they recited chapters of Psalms incessantly with devotion and feeling. At times the eyes of the sick woman would open, and she would look at the children and their father immersed in the recitation of Psalms and say, “You are reciting Psalms for the elevation of my soul? After my death, I permit you to support the gate of the cemetery with my body, but as long as I am alive, I beg you: save me, take me to the best doctors.” Then Shlomo-Aharon straightened up, lifted his eyes heavenward and said, “One must fulfill the will of a seriously ill person!”

The two oldest sons Nachman and Shlomo-Simcha set out for Kiev with their mother in order to solicit the advice of the doctors, but they returned from Kiev without her; with a bit of red sand from her grave in their shoes.

After the Shiva [seven day mourning period], all matters of the household and the shop were conducted by the daughters and the youngest son Asherke. Shlomo-Aharon continued to study Torah as was his custom, but the absence of his wife was felt at every footstep. The home was like a ship that lost it captain.

Shlomo-Aharon never thought about remarrying, for he could not forget Fruma of blessed memory. Even though he did not speak much about her, one could see that he never stopped thinking about her. Only on Sabbath eves when he returned from the synagogue and began the prayer “A woman of valor who can find” did the children feel, through his tune and words, that the soul of their mother was floating around the Sabbath candles, and Father's sad melody was sung in her memory.

Thus did years pass. The three daughters married, as did the youngest son. The house emptied and the bustle ceased. Now, Reb Shlomo-Aharon could sit in his house without any disturbances. The household and the shop were now run by Shmuel Simcha and his wise and well-bred wife Chavale of the Shapira family. They took it upon themselves to care for the comfort and well-being of Father. Indeed, Chavale worried about him and related to him as a faithful and dedicated daughter.

Everything went on as usual until the First World War broke out. When the Russian Army retreated from the town, the Cossacks burnt down many houses, including the house of Shlomo-Aharon. Nobody had time to rescue even the bedding. Shlomo-Aharon, his son, his daughter-in-law and grandson were forced to move to the home of another Jew and to live in cramped conditions. His energy dwindled, his senses of hearing and sight declined, but his splendid appearance remained as in days of yore.

One winter Sabbath morning, as Shlomo-Aharon was walking to the shtibel of the Hassidim of Stolin, shuffling along in his usual manner every Sabbath, wearing his Sabbath kapote and his tallis upon his shoulders with its silver adornment, wearing his streimel upon his head all the way to his neck, with only his long curly peyos showing out from the sides, his eyes closed and teary from the blinding light of the sun and snow - the city police chief

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of the German occupation army came to him. It seemed that the captain was astonished at the splendid appearance and demeanor of the elderly Jew, to the extent that he cleared the way for him as if to give him appropriate honor. The next day, a Jewish policeman with two armed gendarmes came to Shlomo-Aharon's house with a command for him to appear before the civic police chief dressed exactly as he was dressed on the Sabbath morning when they crossed paths.

All the members of the household were surprised. Only the devil knows what this German was plotting? Some people recommended trying to bribe the chief, but Shlomo-Aharon said, “The law of the Land is the law.” In the middle of a weekday, he donned his Sabbath clothes and walked upright to the office of the German police chief, accompanied by the Jewish policeman and the German gendarmes.

News of the summoning of Shlomo-Aharon to the police chief spread throughout the town and inflamed all the spirits. Who knows what awaited the holy community of Ratno from this strange summons? Many Jews, including Shlomo-Aharon's two sons hastened to the house of the Rabbi to ask for advice. Some advised that a delegation of the Jewish community, headed by the rabbi himself, set out to appear before the police chief. Of course, even the Jewish mayor Yeshaya Shapira was summoned, and was prepared to go to the police headquarters. The rabbi calmed his flock by saying that no evil will befall Shlomo-Aharon, for the police officer asked that this holy man with whom he had crossed paths the previous day appear before him; Shlomo-Aharon is indeed a holy man, and with the help of Heaven, the German will not harm him. The entire town was in ferment, and who knows how far things would have gone had not Reb Shaya Shapira returned quickly from the police headquarters and calmed everyone down by stating that Reb Shlomo-Aharon was summoned by the German for one purpose only: to be photographed. Apparently, the police chief had sensed the extent of the patriarchal image of this holy Jew and decided to photograph this unique character, whether for his private album or whether for other purposes.

The tension in Ratno abated with these words. Some people laughed and others wept, but all of them were surprised that this German chief wished to perpetuate the image of this sublime, honored Jew. However the “protagonist” himself, Shlomo-Aharon, left the police headquarters in mourning. He was sorrowful over the photographing of his image, for there is a taint of “do not make for yourself a graven image” in this, as is written in the Torah[3].

About a week later, the granddaughter of Shlomo-Aharon came from Rudka with a copy of the photograph in her hands. He had requested it from the city police chief and had received it. Shlomo-Aharon acceded to the request of his beloved granddaughter, and agreed to hold the photograph in his hands and take a glance of it. However, he did this as if he was compelled to do so, and as if he was holding an abominable object in his hands. Was this a small matter? It is an image! After he cast an astonished look at his picture,

[Page 151]

he was overtaken by shuddering. The photograph appeared to him like a sort of solar eclipse, and his eyes in the photograph appeared to him like the eyes of a bird in the hands of the shochet [ritual slaughterer] just before he cut it with a knife. He mumbled to his granddaughter “Miredelke, quickly bring me a pitcher of water so that I can wash my hands and place me upon my bed. This German has slaughtered me.” …

That year, Reb Shlomo-Aharon returned his soul to his creator while he was lying on his bed in the home of his son Reb Shmuel-Simcha.

(Translated from Yiddish by Simcha Lavie, the grandson of Reb Shlomo-Aharon, the son of his daughter Chasia of blessed memory.)

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Genesis 2:20. Return
  2. Genesis 14:23 Return
  3. The second of the Ten Commandments. To this day, some Hassidic Jews frown upon photographing a human face. Return


[Page 149]

Tidbits

by Zeev Grabov

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Itche-Mordechai the shoemaker was paralyzed in half his body. When they would bring him shoes to fix, his wife would utter, “Why are you bringing him shoes to fix. Do you not know that he has two left hands?” If they would tell her, “In any case, he has eight children,” she would retort, “If they would make children with hands - I would have remained a virgin to this day.”

*

Sheina-Beila prepared dough for the Sabbath challos, and as was her custom, she always put it into bed beside her husband so that it would rise appropriately. She got up at dawn and lit the oven, approached the bread to take a handful of dough as per the law of tithes, but was not in any way able to break off a piece of the dough. She began to curse, as was her custom, and her husband lay in bed full of laughter. “Let your soul be ground up,” she said to him, “What is this laughter about?” The dough did not rise, and what will be with the challos for the Sabbath. Her husband responded, “Sheina-Beila, you are touching my hernia and trying to take a piece of it. The dough has risen appropriately”.

*

[Page 150-alt]

Gedalia Schneider the shoemaker was a unique character in the town. He used to dress in the latest fashion that arrived in Ratno, and he tried to look and sound very intelligent and spiced his words with words from the Haftara[1]. When he went out in the morning, the teacher Kotzker, who was known as a man of culture and someone who was current in social and political affairs, appeared. Gedalia said to him, “Good morning Mr. Kotzker! What is new, Mr. Kotzker? Perhaps you can pay me a check of five zloty? Many think honorable Mr. Kotzker, and much peace upon you.”

After such a conversation, he boasted to everyone, “I had a very interesting conversation with the teacher Kotzker regarding very important matters.”

*

Berele Sara Leah's[2] had been a widower for many years. Whenever he saw two women conversing, he would set his path so that he would pass between them and lightly touch them. When people noted his custom of directing his path between women, he would respond, “What can I do? One must not forgo even small pleasures during these difficult times…”

*

After many years of bachelorhood, Inyuman[3] the water drawer had finally succeeded in marrying a woman from Kowel. When he was asked about how he was succeeding in his affairs, he responded, “Great success. I will always only get married to women from Kowel…” Incidentally, this Inyuman was among the 30 Jews selected by the Germans to stand by a pit to be shot. As the Germans were busy preparing for the murder, he was heard to mutter, “What am I doing here? I have not yet had a chance to give my horse a drink.” As he muttered, he left the line and disappeared without anyone noticing. Thus was he saved, and he survived until the final aktion.

*

Yancha, one of the twins, accompanied his wife to her eternal rest. He was lamenting over her

[Page 151-alt]

grave and saying, “She appeared, without the evil eye, so good and lovely during the latter period, and now, may we be protected, she is being brought to burial”…

*

Beni, the son of Hershel Benddek the porter and the drummer in Avraham-Yankel the musician's band, used to say, “All night long the moon goes around and around my house, but when it reaches my window, the sun is already shining at full strength…”

Translator's Footnotes

  1. The section from the Prophets read after the Torah reading on Sabbaths, festivals and fast days. Return
  2. This type of nickname means “Berlele the son of Sara Leah.” Return
  3. Likely a nickname for Binyamin (Binyuman). Return


About the Town

by Chaim Hazaz

Translated by Jerrold Landau

“… In any manner that you judge the Diaspora and a Jewish town, perforce you will measure the great values therein, such as: fear of Heaven, study of Torah, love of one's fellow Jew, longing for the Land of Israel, faith in the redemption and the coming of the Messiah, and many other such things. Translate these values into the language of modern man and compare them to the values of Today. A Jewish person in the Diaspora, in a Jewish town, would be found by a book for the entire day. Every man, including an ordinary person, was involved with Mishna, Midrash, Ein Yaakov, and Psalms. It goes without saying that this was the same case with a scholar, whose mouth never desisted from Torah day and night, and who was not seeking any reward. A person who is interested in the book, whose entire scope of interest is with the book, is of course a sublime person. How much more so is an entire nation. Therefore, we have been nicknamed: The People of the Book.

It is no wonder that a Jewish town was filled with great spiritual powers. Great rabbis, heads and leaders of the people would come forth from the town. The first Maskilim, various types of Socialists who dedicated themselves to the redemption and freedom, and all sorts of dreamers and visionaries of the redemption of Israel sprung forth from the town.”

 

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